Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mind Your Own Business

Now that the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the most prestigious classical music ensemble in the world, has joined ranks with many others and launched its own recording label, I think it would be safe to say that the final nail has been driven into the "major" labels coffin. And by "major" labels I mean the ones that are either owned, operated or controlled by financial institutions, multinational corporations and/or investors, and are part of such a large and multi-tentacled organization, that their names usually require the addition of the word "group".   Deutsche Grammophon in particular, one of the most iconic and globally recognized of all classical music labels, has held a very long and distinguished association with Berlin.

Now this is only my opinion (it is my blog after all) but I don't think this is bad news. As a matter of fact I believe it's a good omen for the future of classical music recordings. The large number of smaller independent labels, which over the last 20 years or so have done a great job at keeping the classical music industry's head above water, will now have even more room for expansion, and will keep doing what they've always done better than the big guys, and that's to serve the music first and foremost.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not here to trash the majors. In their heydays, sometime between 1960 and 1995, they all released some stupendous recordings featuring top of the line orchestras, singers and musicians. They were a force to be reckoned with and established comprehensive catalogs of state of the art recordings and developed large rosters of top tier artists. But somewhere along the way, they seem to have lost sight of their vision, and turned down a road leading away from their initial goals.

They all started promoting and selling music as if it were a commodity. They all started marketing "classical" as if it was "pop" music. Now was the era of the glitzy collections and/or the young superstars on the cover. It was no longer the Chopin Nocturnes played by Artur Rubinstein, but rather John Flashy performs the Chopin nocturnes. It wasn't about the music anymore. And instead of focusing on the music, and at least trying to release some rarely recorded works or new music by up and coming composers, they were all trying to outdo each other by copying one another. As soon as one label announced that they were planning on releasing a new recording of, say for example, the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, all the other labels would do the exact same thing within a month or two of each other. It's as if they were all of the mentality that their recording, if somewhat better, would prevent the other guy from selling many copies of his. It's that same business mentality you see all the time now, where someone opens a retail store across the street from a competitor, not do sell better stuff or to offer better customer service, but rather to put the other guy out of business. It's the "I will do something to prevent you from doing it" syndrome. And it's not only bad for business, it's terrible for the consumer. That is how we've ended up with so many recordings of the same music, over and over again. The major labels themselves were holding the hammer that drove in the nails.

I own, operate and edit which presents reviews of current classical music recordings. Ever since this website was launched, I've never had any problems whatsoever obtaining review copies of CDs from any of the independent labels, but have never been able to obtain even one CD from any of the major labels. What does that tell you? Mind you that was back in the day when digital file downloads did not exist. I now have access to recordings from the major labels in a digital fashion.

All these orchestras now, minding their own business, are free to record what they want and how they want, hopefully "live", and no longer have to follow the directives of label executives who don't know C sharp minor from a hole in the ground. This may well be the classical music revival we've all been waiting for.


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